(Insert the pre-read of: The Beginning of the Back-Story)
… And there in that daily environment, God blessed us with our first child.
The tomboy in my popped out, I wanted a boy. A son to play in the dirt with, run around outside with and bring to soccer or baseball practice. Cute little polo shirts and striped navy pants. Easy button, comfy clothes. SURPRISE! We caught the eyes of our sweet little Rachael Elizabeth on the ultrasound screen. I still remember taking a walk with a dear friend and just crying. I was so disappointed. What am I going to do with a girl? I don’t know the least thing about how to raise a girl. A girl was my lowest level of confidence… with the hairdos and the pink…. and fluffiness. And then there was the whole make-up and self-esteem issues. I was overwhelmed.
I started to get used to the idea as the pregnancy went on. Something about pregnancy sacrifices that bonded me to this little person inside. And then I met her one January 5th. Her beautiful browns. The way she turned into my neck when I sang to her. She knew my voice. She needed me. And I found a world of girl clothes that didn’t have to be pink. And the frills started to grow on me a bit.
I was happy to see my dreams come true as Rachael neared 11 months. I was finally going to get to come home just to be with her. I wouldn’t carry the heartache of raising any more children before I got the chance to raise my own. And the hope of meeting our next one 6 months later, despite the 4.5 months of morning/afternoon/evening and night nausea and sickness, hit me with such joy as I drove away from the office for the last time. The pendulum was swinging back to investing in those God was giving us, instead of asking for their sacrifice alone. (This is not to imply that working Moms are somehow bad Moms, this is just God’s life journey for Matt and I).
And we learned again that I was having another girl. This time it wasn’t too horrible of a shock. I didn’t need a counseling session walk with a friend. Hehe I had grown in my confidence, especially since we hadn’t royally screwed up Rachael…yet.
Abi Grace joined us on a wonderful June 16th evening. And while her pregnancy left me wondering if we’d have any more…. EVER, her blond curls and baby blues stole my heart. Two girls… for this tomboy to raise. God sure had a sense of humor.
God further opened Matt and my eyes to His beloved orphans a handful of months after Abi started sleeping through the night.. you know when we could actually start thinking again, as opposed to the basic survival mode of a newborn. While Abi was more clingy and more “Mommy only” than Rachael had ever been, God opened our eyes to those all over the world that didn’t have that opportunity to attach so strongly or consistently to anyone. Those forgotten. The ones that didn’t cry because they knew no one would come.
I remember calling my Mother after a session at the orphan summit weekend. “Hold Abi close for me, Mom,” I asked her. “There are so many that don’t live to be a year old in this world.” My little eleven month old Abi. I couldn’t get her out of my mind as I filled bags full of life-sustaining food for weak and perishing children’s mouths. Somebody’s baby. …. somebody’s baby…
Shortly after that conference and the continued praying we had done through that time in our lives, God opened our eyes to fostering. I honestly can tell you that I never once thought I’d be a foster mom. I saw the other side of the system. How little you can sometimes know about a kid placed in your home. The frustrations and the challenges and the strains. And Matt was not stained, but not naive to the hurts and the challenges and the trials of having a foster sibling. Matt had never pushed. We are a family. Our own family. So we would make decisions about what was best for our family, under God’s will’s umbrella.
Hannah Joy was added to our family shortly after we had finally jumped through all the foster care pre-trainings and the homestudy process hoops. We were certified… and had a newborn. A girl, naturally, because God knows what I need. And God knows what He is doing.
The boys came to us one Friday, four hours after a phone call we had our two new responsibilities. Two little strangers to get to know and learn to love. I finally got some boys. Only these ones were different. They weren’t mine. … Or maybe they would be in the future. … Or maybe not. The challenges were great: lice off/on for 8 weeks, hospitalization of our unfamiliar 3 month old struggler and a 30 day illness following the hospital stay which would untrain our night-sleeper Hannah and send us all into a sleep-needing coma for 6 weeks of coughing, phlegm sucking and respirators. We were figuring out twins, Hannah and Little Man being 6 weeks apart. And working through the pains of growing from a family of 2 kids to a family of 5 kids within a 5 month time frame. Our “middlest” Abi was now a SUPER middlest child, adding some new behaviors. Our oldest, Big Guy, was now adding some interesting habits to the mix. And somewhere along the 11 month journey we figured out how to operate as a team. There were beautiful peeks and forging valleys as the boys went through family confusion. And while we wanted “just our three back” in the really hard moments, we also didn’t want the boys to go home to anything but the best home possible. It was a weekly roller coaster at some points of the 11 months and I can tell you now that it was the most stress to date that we have had to figure out. My Matthew showed up with flying teamwork colors. I have never seen us work together so well. We were a well oiled machine of diapers, formula, kid schedules, diaper bags…. people, we could get out of the house in 30 minutes flat going from 5 undressed kids to all ready to go for an afternoon. We were constantly running schedules, play by plays and walkie-talkie like communications by each other to get everyone’s needs met from medicines to wiped noses to clipped finger and toe nails. It was like an assembly line.
And while I wouldn’t give that time back for the world, Matt and I realized in that time that while we were able to live like that… it wasn’t our desire to always live like that. 5 kids age 5 and under was too much to sustain for years on end. So there was much joy and some hurt empty space when the boys went home the week of Christmas. An odd void in wondering how quickly our investment would deteriorate, and old, bad habits would return. And yet how much their hearts were full going back to Mom’s arms. And how proud we were and still are of how far Mom came to make healthy adjustments and sacrifices for her babies.
And we settled back into 3… almost in shock at how easy 3 was. Our house was so quiet. And orderly. And our #4 crept quietly into the end of our chaos and just grew…. and grew in the newfound normal.
Eden Rose. Girl #4 will be joining us this summer. And you know what? I prayed that we’d have another girl. I’ve seen how our Abi and Rachael are dear friends. How they’ve blessed my ears in their giggles over the baby monitor. Their little imaginary worlds exploding with fairy princess tales and rescue missions down the hallway. They are such dear friends, the two of them. And they will be bunk mates for who knows how long.
And then there came our busy little Hannah, flocking to Rachael’s nurturing and butting heads with our drama queen, Abi, while following her around the house in awe. Hannah doesn’t quite understand that her bunk mate is coming soon, but she’ll figure it out that Mommy’s still going to call her baby and rock her even when little Eden shows up on the scene. They each have moved over and shared with the next one in line. Some taking longer than others. But each learning a new level of kindness, compassion and nurturing.
Our orphan care dreams still find their ways into conversations. Funny how you can’t hide your heart. And every Saturday morning Matt and I pray for how our family will be involved in adoption. We continue to do research and await God’s next whisper of direction. International, domestic, fostering to adopt…. we’re just waiting to hear what He’d have for us next.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
So that brings us all the way to tonight. And the little story I wanted to share. See knowing the back-story helps to fully understand how far God can grow a Mom…. this Mom. How He knows us far better than we ever thought we knew ourselves. And how His love changes us… changes me.
Hannah was down to bed. Littlest goes down earlier than everyone else since she needs more sleep. Rachael and Abi snuggled their little almost four (in a few weeks) and five year old selves into our family reading time on the couch. Teeth freshly brushed. Pottying finished. Hair being taken out of the day’s hairdos (see, I have gotten better… slowly). Abi’s little hand came over to feel Eden move. Poor Abi’s too impatient to really get a good kick but she seems content regardless.
Rachael joined in the fun, partially to stall out bedtime and the other half of her nurturing kicking in. I played along… bonding starts before they meet face to face. This late in the pregnancy game my shirts don’t fit quite so great
(can I get a witness?!). It’s easy to see my belly hanging out. But when it’s just family I don’t care.
See… my girls are learning to define beauty. I already know the media’s message they will have to struggle with in due time. But I want them to remember me as different than the culture. Real. And unashamed. God defines beauty. I want them to wonder why we defined beauty in such a different way than Hollywood ever did. I want it to point them to Jesus.
Abi commented on my belly being fat. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I carry big and low. And she’s not criticizing. Just observing.
“Yep, Abi, Eden’s getting bigger,” I usually answer back with no shame. We want her to get big. And continue to be so healthy – even if she’s already a pound over the average weight for her gestation week.
Abi poked my stretch marks.
“Do those hurt?” Rachael’s compassion kicked in.
“Sometimes they’re uncomfortable,” I was honest as I exposed my baby bump, “but lotion helps them feel more comfortable. It’s just my skin growing and stretching to fit Eden as she grows bigger. Some were from Hannah,” they touched a few. “And some were from you, Abi.” Abi shot an excited smile.
“And some,” I pointed to the really deep ones, “were from you, Rachael. All the way back when you were a baby,” since my five year old is ‘so big’ now.
And then we chit-chatted about the blue veins on my stomach and how they bring blood to Eden so she can keep growing big and strong. And how veins help bring blood all the way down to my toes and all the way up to my head. Abi enjoyed poking my veins and I smirked at being a living science experiment.
“Did you know blood is blue?!” I asked my blondie.
“What?!” said Rachael.
“Yep, it’s blue, but when it comes out of our bodies it turns red. That’s why my veins are blue.”
Abi jumped off the couch and pointed to my spider veins. “Here’s some more!” came her innocence.
“Yep, those are spider veins, don’t they look like spider legs?” I asked her as she poked me again.
“I like these ones,” she said with a smile.
“And here’s my huge long vein,” I pointed to my varicose vein as Rachael helped trace it down my leg.
“This one has a LOT of blood traveling inside.” I explained.
Eden began moving again and we giggled about what part of her body she could be moving.
“How is she laying in there?” Rachael asked. “Is this her head?” She patted an Eden bulge.
Eden squirmed a bit.
“I don’t know, I can’t see in. But when we got to see in with the pictures two weeks ago her bottom was here and her head pointing down with her feet up by her head.”
They giggled at how silly that sounded.
“Is this her bottom?” Abi lost it in hysterics poking at some hard section of Eden.
“Maybe.” We giggled.
“Did you know Daddy used to lay his head on my belly with each and every one of you and try to get kicked in the head?!” I shared.
Then of course after the giggles swept through Abi and Rachael had to try it.
“Now this is the only time it’s okay to let Eden kick you in the head,” I laughed, “Only when she’s inside my belly.”
It was getting late and they were getting a little overly silly. But before they scampered off to their beds, Rachael and Abi both gave Eden a goodnight hug… loving on my belly. And Abi gave my road-map of stretch marks a little kiss. “Goodnight Eden,” came their sweet little voices.
I have tried to make it a point to be honest with my girls. I don’t want to share too much for their little worlds to grasp, but I do want to filter to them real beauty. Beauty not defined by concealer, dieting, or a constant desire to physically look better. Beauty not disguised as idolatry or wrapped in manipulation or a power status. A beauty that strives to be healthy, but embraces motherhood and being a wife in its raw and vulnerable moments. A beauty defined in God’s definition of worth, love and grace.
I see curiosity in their young eyes, but know that self-worth doubt will most likely fumble in through the awkward Jr. High years. And desire to be like everyone else, a carbon copy of culture’s definition of beauty, even if it’s defined in the Christian culture community. may very well be a High School challenge. Outward appearance will drive a message of highest importance, leaving many ladies struggling with self-image for the rest of their lives.
But I want to outwardly embrace my laughing lines… it’s evidence that I laughed. When I’m old I want to have gray hair. It’s evidence that I have been gifted a long life. I want to have crows feet on the sides of my eyes…. fruit of smiling at others. And I am so blessed to have a husband who treasures my “honor marks” left by my wonderful girls. And my stomach will probably never have a six-pack of abs…. my skin will probably never go completely back to what it once was before my big, healthy girls… but I wouldn’t exchange it for the world. Sure I’m going to strive to be healthy and maintain a level of fitness to be able to play with my kids at the park, and chase grandkids eventually, if we are so blessed. I want to be fit enough to walk some flights of stairs without dying for breath and encourage my family through self-sacrifice and self-determination to overcome future 5k’s on a decently regular basis. My body is a temple of the Living God and I want to be healthy and fit enough to do His work that He has for us. But I am not ashamed of my love handles. They are a reminder of carrying little kickers and being a part of the miracle of new life.
I want my girls to learn about that kind of beauty. A beauty defined in My Father’s eyes.
… and maybe that’s why He keeps on giving us girls to raise.
– Thankful, grateful and overwhelmingly blessed.